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My Favorite Bit: Susan Forest talks about BURSTS OF FIRE

My Favorite BitSusan Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel Bursts of Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Bursts of Fire begins an epic political fantasy of revenge, addictions, and redemption. In an empire where magic has become suspect, love and loyalty–for one’s lover, one’s family, one’s country–are tested. If Heaven desires the very earth be burned, what place can those below hope for, when the flames come for them?

The Falkyn sisters bear a burden and a legacy. Their mother, the imperial magiel of the kingdom of Orumon, protects her people from the horrors of the afterlife by calling upon the Gods with a precious Prayer Stone. But war among the kingdoms has brought fire and destruction to their sheltered world. When a mad king’s desire to destroy the Prayer Stones shatters their family, the three girls are scattered to the wilderness, relying on their wits and powers they don’t yet master.

Assassin. Battle tactician. Magic wielder. Driven by different ambitions, Meg, Janat, and Rennika are destined to become all these and more. To reclaim their birth right, they must overcome doubtful loyalties within a rising rebellion; more, they must challenge a dogma-driven chancellor’s influence on the prince raised to inherit his father’s war: a prince struggling to unravel the mystery of his brother’s addiction to Heaven.

To survive. To fight. To restore balance.

What’s Susan’s favorite bit?

Bursts of Fire cover image


One of many impetuses I had for creating the world of Shangril came from my roots growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Western Canada. I was only a city kid by geography; on weekends, my father took my sisters, my brother, and me trekking through forests and across scree slopes and glaciers, tenting or staying in back country huts (I even slept in an ice cave), watching long summer twilights from high alpine meadows, or taking a midnight ski by moonlight.

My dad, though an engineer by profession, was at heart a mountain man. He grew up fishing, tramping the woods of northern Saskatchewan, and hunting partridge for dinner, on his family’s farm during the Depression. So, years later, when my older sister brought home a permission slip from school to join the Alpine Club of Canada, mountaineering was a natural outgrowth of his passions. He found his true love: before he died at the age of eighty-three, my father had become the first person to scale all the peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 11,000 feet (53 peaks), and the oldest person to climb Canada’s highest mountain, Mt. Logan. But more than an explorer, my father was a family man who included his kids on his adventures. It meant everything to him to pass on the legacy of outdoor survival and backwoods camaraderie to his children.

And so it was that my siblings and I spent a great deal of time absorbing the skills of outdoor living and developing a love of the wilds.

But the interrelationships of sisterhood are complex and deeply rooted (my brother moved north in his twenties). My older sister was a strong, self-assured woman who didn’t necessarily have time for her younger siblings. She began duck hunting at an early age and skiing with members of the National Ski Team in her teens (and was, therefore, an excellent downhill skier in her own right). In her twenties, she became the first female National Park Warden in Canada. She was on the first all-women’s team to attempt Mt. Logan.

My younger sister, always one to work her heart out to keep up to the rest of us, was a cross-country skier, climber, chainsaw wielder, and horsewoman. She also became a National Park Warden (Rescue Specialist), and she was one of only a handful of women in Canada to earn her full Mountain Guide’s License. Today she is a heli-ski guide, mountain guide, and horse outfitter. Five-foot-two and a hundred and ten pounds, and my best friend.

There were times, growing up, when we did a variety of outdoor activities together, but because of the age spread, my older sister had moved on to activities with her friends before I took up climbing and skiing, and my younger sister was riding in a backpack or getting towed on her skis behind my dad. So, some of our shared experiences took the form of conversations around the dinner table, and the recounting of close encounters (but nothing that would worry my mom) or funny situations. Today we do still hike, ski, and ride horses together, but often just two of us at a time.

Nevertheless, the experiences I have had pursuing outdoor sports have given me a wonderful launch point for writing fantasy adventure. In a still-unpublished work, I’ve written scenes taking place in a cave that draw on my experience being in the third or fourth party to explore Rats Nest Cave on Goat Mountain. Early in Bursts of Fire, the three sisters are caught out on a mountain above tree line, and must negotiate its scree and fragmented rock ribs, in the cold of late September. I know what the wind on mountain tops is like; what it’s like to down-climb cliff bands to safety; what it’s like to tramp endlessly through trackless woods, not quite certain of the path. I’ve chopped wood, drawn water from a rushing river, washed my dishes with moss in an icy stream. The primitive stone and log huts in the series are modeled on places I’ve stayed.

An example of capturing the essence of harsh mountain weather is illustrated in these few lines:

She lifted thin arms to the wind, pitilessly small beneath the swirling gray sky. “We’ve done everything…everything you demanded…”

Rennika’s grief turned to lead in her limbs.

The wind rushed over them, drenching them with rain, speared their faces with icy needles, its endless lonely breath in their ears.

So, yes. Writing fantasy adventure in Bursts of Fire takes me back—at least in my mind—to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, the sensations I’ve felt. And that is definitely my favorite bit.


Bursts of Fire Universal Book Link

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Susan Forest grew up in a family of mountaineers and skiers, and she loves adventure. She also loves the big ideas found in SF/F, and finds fast-paced adventure stories a great place to explore how individuals grapple with complex moral decisions. Bursts of Fire, first book in her Addicted to Heaven series (to be followed by Flights of Marigolds in 2020), confronts issues of addiction in an epic fantasy world of intrigue and betrayal. Susan is also an award-winning fiction editor, has published over 25 short stories (Analog, Asimov’s, BCS, & more), and has appeared at many international writing conventions. She loves travel and has been known to dictate novels from the back of her husband’s motorcycle.

My Favorite Bit: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law talk about SHADES WITHIN US: TALES OF MIGRATIONS AND FRACTURED BORDERS

My Favorite BitSusan Forest and Lucas K. Law are joining us today to talk about their anthology Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Journey with twenty-one speculative fiction authors through the fractured borders of human migration to examine the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of those who choose–or are forced–to leave home and familiar places.

An American father shields his son from Irish discrimination. A Chinese foreign student wrestles to safeguard her family at the expense of her soul. A college graduate is displaced by technology. A Nigerian high school student chooses between revenge and redemption. A bureaucrat parses the mystery of Taiwanese time travellers. A defeated alien struggles to assimilate into human culture. A Czechoslovakian actress confronts the German WWII invasion. A child crosses an invisible border wall. And many more.

Stories that transcend borders, generations, and cultures. Each is a glimpse into our human need in face of change: to hold fast to home, to tradition, to family; and yet to reach out, to strive for a better life.

Featuring Original Stories by Vanessa Cardui, Elsie Chapman, Kate Heartfield, S.L. Huang, Tyler Keevil, Matthew Kressel, Rich Larson, Tonya Liburd, Karin Lowachee, Seanan McGuire, Brent Nichols, Julie NovÁkovÁ, Heather Osborne, Sarah Raughley, Alex Shvartsman, Amanda Sun, Jeremy Szal, Hayden Trenholm, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Christie Yant & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro.

What are their favorite bits?

Shades Within Us cover image


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin (A Dance With Dragons)

Stories provide a glimpse into other lives. That’s why it was such a gift to have the opportunity to work with the stories in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders: to catch a glimmer of this range of experiences of moving across, through and within our fractured world. The voices brought me inside the characters, allowing me to walk in their footsteps for brief moments. Moments made significant by wings of poetry.

It is simple to say there are sacrifices demanded by migration, even a willingly chosen journey. But here in S.L. Huang’s Devouring Tongues is how a language student, desperate to escape a precarious political situation, faces the cost of her choices:

“Your parents quietly disapprove of the way the government forced you to learn Mandarin, but you’re secretly and shamefully grateful. Mandarin gives you half of Asia. And English gives you the world. Teochew gives you nothing. Redundant. Useless. But your eyes still prickle and blur, and you wish you could remember the names of your mother’s houseplants.”

A moment. A memory.

Sometimes the struggle to free one’s self from an intolerable situation involves running a gauntlet through Hell. The rhythms of the poetry become guttural for Superfreak from Tonya Liburd:

“‘Yo. Yo.’ Danielle’s hands clamped together, sweaty. Someone seemed to have smelt the new on her and come picking for a fight. ‘Yo, fucking bitch.’ A kick thumped the back of the sofa for emphasis. ‘Yo.'”

How about capturing the cockiness, the wisdom and limited perspective of youth by Kate Heartfield in Gilbert Tong’s Life List:

“Dad was still clinging, then, to the idea that one day, Canada would let us live there. That’s why he was always trying to get me to speak Kiribati. He was afraid, once I became a Canadian, I’d lose my culture. I thought anyone who was not a fool would know we had a lot bigger things to be afraid of.”

The loss of family observed by Heather Osborne’s From the Shoals of Broken Cities:

“His mother vanished overnight, a slim presence carefully sweeping up after herself.”

And the sweetness of new discovery and new culture in Habitat from Christie Yant:

“Marcel found the stall where he’d once bought her a flower garland. She laughed as he set one on her head, and they ate festival food and drank festival wine, which made them giddy. As they grew braver, they told each other stories. Later that evening beside a fountain, under strings of twinkling lights, with the scent of spring blossoms and sound of stringed instruments on the air, he kissed her.”

These, and so many more. Sweet. Powerful. Captivating. Words that capture a feeling, a moment. You are there. Underlying observations of who we are and the borders we are impelled to cross; and the lyrical voices that tell these stories: these are my favorite bits.


How many of us stay in one place from birth to death? I think it is obvious that most of us, if not all, have moved or relocated at least once—whether by choice or through force. This move could be across town, continent, or ocean. It is not just a physical migration but also a migration of soul, mind, and spirit. Our journey does not begin or end when we find a new place; it is the series of experiences, challenges, and reflections—personal or shared—along the way, that make us who we are or what we become.

I see fragments of myself in each of the stories in Shades Within Us, from an immigrant to a person caught between two worlds, from dealing with a particular norm to accepting the uniqueness in each other, from facing discrimination to finding acceptance. Each story reflects the importance of history and storytelling; the importance of communicating and connecting through one’s own art, whatever that may be. And that is my favorite bit. Why?

Stories allow us to probe or reflect on our own history more deeply.

A few weeks ago, I asked my father, “Why do you keep mentioning the name of that remote fishing village?” He answered, “I lived there until my late teens.”

Boy, it was a revelation. I didn’t know that his family fled the city during WWII. I always assumed that he grew up in the city because he was born there and that was where most of his relatives were during the Japanese occupation. And, country life wasn’t in his blood.

I knew my mother grew up in the remote areas of Malaysia; for that reason, I assumed my father was talking about her fishing village all these years. This bit of information changed my perception of my father’s life. But it also gave me an entry to probe further into his childhood years. Suddenly, all the dots connected and made sense—the things he did and the reasons behind them.

In her WWII story, Screen in Silver, Love in Colour, Mirror in Black-and-White, Julie Nováková pins down the importance of connecting with our own histories:

“Other souls can become a part of our own. They do it every day quite naturally, just by reminding us of what has been and what should be. Tracking down our histories doesn’t steal our soul; it enriches it.”

Tracking down our histories—personal or cultural—understanding and living them, expressing and sharing them: this is art; this is story.

We are all artists. We all have histories and stories; and we all have the ability within us to create and express them: writing, cooking, painting, photographing, gardening. But if we worry that we are not good enough, we don’t have the right tools, or no one is interested, we can end up in a state of paralysis, and the art within us withers. So, when the time is right, be not afraid to share your story in whatever medium you are comfortable with. Seanan McGuire captures this in Remember the Green:

 “Then I reach down, deep down, into the part of me that’s always in the green, where the green grows. The world can go as grey as it likes. I’ll still know the green.”

Remember your histories, your migrations; connect with, and share them. As Eric Choi and Gillian Clinton write in their Introduction to Shades Within Us:

“It is more important than ever to try and imagine futures that are optimistic and beautiful.”


Shades Within Us

Universal Book Link

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Susan Forest



Lucas K. Law




Susan Forest is an award-winning author and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She has published over 25 short stories in Canadian and international publications. Bursts of Fire, the first in her seven-book epic fantasy adventure saga Addicted to Heaven, is not only her long-nurtured tale of rollicking adventure, but also an opportunity—one she appreciates—for an examination of the complex world of addictions. There is no family today that has not been touched by the heartache, stigma, struggles—and the often-unrecognized courage and hope—that underpin the illness of addiction. This motif is one Susan is humbled to explore with the aspiration of provoking dialogue, and the recognition of—and respect for—those whose battles are ongoing.

Lucas K. Law is a Malaysian-born freelance editor and published author who divides his time and heart between Calgary and Qualicum Beach. With Susan Forest, he co-edits Aurora (Canadian SF&F) Award-winning Strangers Among Us, The Sum of Us, and Shades Within Us. Lucas is the co-editor of Where the Stars Rise with Derwin Mak.

My Favorite Bit: Elizabeth Forest talks about THE THIRD KIND OF MAGIC

My Favorite BitElizabeth Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel The Third Kind of Magic. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Can one twelve-year-old girl fight a witch?

Exiled from her village for accidentally using advanced magic, Suli must either become a wise woman or be shunned as a witch.

She’s apprenticed to the wise woman Tala, but Suli’s magical education is cut short when a witch kidnaps her teacher to learn the secret of shape-shifting.

Suli discovers she too has inherited the shape-shifting ability. and even without her teacher, learns to fly and to talk to animals.

Then the witch asks Suli to make a terrible choice: Suli must live with the witch as her apprentice, or she’ll never see Tala again.

But if she agrees, she’ll be called a witch for the rest of her life.

What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?

The Third Kind of Magic cover image


I am going to use a quote from another writer to talk about what I love most about my middle-grade fantasy novel, The Third Kind of Magic, for two reasons. The first is that Ms. LeGuin’s essays, in an anthology called Cheek by Jowl, had a direct influence on my ability to revise and finish the book. The second is that her words are more eloquent than mine, and I need to hear her voice again after losing her so recently.

The quote is from an essay entitled “The Critics, the Monsters and the Fantasists”:

Animals were once more to us than meat, pests or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them: but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not universal.

What fantasy does that the realistic novel generally cannot do is include the nonhuman as essential.

The vigilant reader will recognize the title of Le Guin’s essay is based on Tolkien’s essay “The Monster and the Critics,” and she amplifies his ideas in “explaining” fantasy to those who need such explanations. Reading these essays, I recognized that “the human is not universal” is the most important theme in my book. I suspect it’s a basic insight of childhood too – that the culture we are being socialized into is not the only reality, or even the best way to organize life. That’s probably one reason why books with animal characters are so appealing to us when we’re younger; children, like animals, are outside of civilization.

In The Third Kind of Magic, there are talking animals. Predictably, agents rolled their eyes hearing that. But I wanted to directly convey that the animal characters are interested in, but detached from, human definitions and uses of magic. The animal communities have their own opinions and lore about it, and although they make alliances with humans sometimes, they are not subordinate to them. The one exception is when a rogue human’s use of magic endangers everyone: when dealing with a witch, in fact. Then it’s up to the humans to solve the problem they caused.

Suli, the main character, is an untried apprentice in magic. She loses her human teacher early on, and is mentored in magic by a crow teacher. His guidance is vitally important when Suli finally decides how she will deal with the witch who not only kidnapped her teacher, but turned her in to the witch-hunting authorities.

In the end, Suli is able to restore the human and animal communities, and to set right what the witch has damaged, without killing her opponent, or “defeating” some essentialist evil. The witch herself is recognized as still being part of the wider community. Killing the offender is not the way this culture solves its problems. Those are the ways of the Outsiders, who have witch trials and hangings. That’s my second favorite thing about the book: There is no final battle between good and evil – rather a family secret that is finally addressed and resolved.

So if you’re willing to give up your anthropocentrism for a while, and imagine yourself part of the animal community, you might enjoy The Third Kind of Magic.


The Third Kind of Magic Universal Book Link





Elizabeth Forest writes historical and speculative fiction for readers of all ages. She’s drawn to other cultures, alternate worlds, and the lives of those outside the mainstream.  She blogs at, and can be found on twitter @elizasforest. Join her VIP Readers’ group at to hear about new books and special bonus features for members.

My Favorite Bit: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law talk about THE SUM OF US: TALES OF THE BONDED AND BOUND

Favorite Bit iconSusan Forest and Lucas K. Law are joining us today with their anthology The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound. Here is the publisher’s description:

The world of caregivers and unsung heroes, the province of ghosts . . .

If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers— our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .


These are their stories.

Children giving care. Dogs and cats giving care. Sidekicks, military, monks, ghosts, robots. Even aliens. Care given by lovers, family, professionals. Caregivers who can no longer give. Caregivers who make the decision not to give, and the costs and the consequences that follow. Bound to us by invisible bonds, but with lives, dreams, and passions of their own. Twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors explore the depth and breadth of caring and of giving. They find insight, joy, devastation, and heroism in grand sweeps and in tiny niches. And, like wasps made of stinging words, there is pain in giving, and in working one’s way through to the light. Our lives and relationships are complex. But in the end, there is hope, and there is love.

Colleen Anderson, Charlotte Ashley, Brenda Cooper, Ian Creasey, A.M. Dellamonica, Bev Geddes, Claire Humphrey, Sandra Kasturi, Tyler Keevil, Juliet Marillier, Matt Moore, Heather Osborne, Nisi Shawl, Alex Shvartsman, Kate Story, Karina Sumner-Smith, Amanda Sun, Hayden Trenholm, James Van Pelt, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Edward Willett, Christie Yant, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Dominik Parisien (Introduction).

What are Susan’s and Lucas’s favorite bits?

The Sum of Us cover image


As a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend, I know some things about what it means to be a caregiver. I’ve changed diapers and dried tears, held someone close, waited, and listened. I’ve weighed my own needs against the needs of those near to me. I held my mother’s hand as she passed on to whatever undiscovered country lies beyond.

But despite the commonalities between my experiences and those of other caregivers—and we are all caregivers—as a human being isolated in my own skin, my own mind, I can never know, truly and intimately, another person’s experiences of those same relationships.

Stories, though. Ah, stories! Stories bring me as close as I can come to understanding my fellow humans on this earth. That is my favorite bit.

I can—and I did—list the insights into caregiving that I found in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media). That deserving care doesn’t depend on the receiver’s worth. That caregiving can involve deep sacrifice and many can’t bear that cost—and, choosing not to give care has its costs as well. That, as draining as caregiving can be, it can be joyous, too, and give purpose to a life. Most of us know, if not from personal experience then from the zeitgeist, that the relationship between the caregiver and care-given can be mutual and interchangeable; that caregivers may have to suffer anger and resentment from their loved ones.

We understand that sometimes people who seem not to care, do; and we know that caregivers can be desperate to save the ones they love. That caregivers are aging and becoming fragile; that caring can be an escape from one’s own life; and that witnessing death can also be a kind of caregiving. Caregivers are persistent. Despite setbacks, they continue to give, again and again.

Yet these understandings—intellectual, listed—are only words, dead on the page. They have no vibrancy, no resonance. They give no access to the deep felt meanings they represent. Only the act of reading the story—of living the life of the character within the pages, his feelings and thoughts and interactions, his experiences of giving and receiving care—gives these insights vitality. Significance. It is in how the authors have brought their ideas to life in story that makes their ideas—simple or profound—resonate, rattle around in my brain, stick to me. Change me.

My favorite bit is reading the stories for The Sum of Us.


My favorite bit is not only just reading the stories but the anticipation of seeing the stories in publication, hoping they will show up inside the public and academic libraries across the world. When I was little, my mother often took me to our village library. What a joy it was to flip through those picture books from the shelves! The smell. The touch. The words.


One of the earliest picture books that captured my imagination was “Harold and the Purple Canyon.” Whenever Harold encounters a problem, he shows his resourcefulness and imagination by finding a way to solve it.

When Susan and I solicited the stories for The Sum of Us, our concern was receiving too many stories containing similar characters. When we think of caregiving, we often think of the old, frail, and disabled. Someone who is helpless. Someone who is at the end of life. Someone who is taking our time and energy.

Like Harold, the authors surprised me with their staggering range of caregivers and concepts of caregiving—a henchman looks after a supervillain, the soldier in charge of the governor’s children, a cat helps his patients pass on, an android tends to a terminally ill patient, a service dog looks after an ice hockey player, a young apprentice guides a blind welder, an old couple with diminished capabilities depend on each other to survive an earthquake, an aging tutor overcomes the reservation of her pupil to build a submersible vessel, a hospice director trying to do the right thing, a pious monk makes the final decision, and many more.

Their stories open my eyes about the vast opportunities in caregiving. Caregiving is everywhere, directly and indirectly. And caregivers can be anyone. Sometimes it is us in ways we don’t consider. How about when we recycle? How about when we volunteer for a non-profit organization?  How about when we say kind words to a stranger?

Dominik Parisien said it best in his Introduction:

“Caregiving can feel like the province of ghosts . . . They were there all along—caregivers surround us—but it is mainly in those moments of terrible need that we notice them. Many of us think of caregivers as individuals on the periphery. As a result, it is easy to let caregivers fade. It is not necessary that we do not appreciate their support . . . Rather, in our focus on ourselves we often fail to recognize the needs of the person fulfilling our needs.”

Stories are meant to be shared and reflected upon; especially stories that capture the breadth and depth of caring and of giving, and delve into the complex world of caregivers—a segment of our population that is often taken for granted.

We ask you to join us and place “caregivers” and “caregiving” on the forefront. The best gift, my favorite bit, is for you to suggest The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound to your local public and school libraries. Get the stories into as many hands as you can, just like that little Malaysian boy who came home with a knapsack of library books each week to discover a world beyond his own environment.

So let’s inspire the world to recognize those who care. One person at a time.


Susan Forest




Lucas K. Law



The Sum of Us

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Susan Forest

Susan Forest is a four-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her novel (Bursts of Fire), the first in a seven-volume YA fantasy epic series, Addicted to Heaven Saga, will be out Fall 2018 from Laksa Media and followed by Flights of Marigold (2019). Her collection of short fiction, Immunity to Strange Tales, was published by Five Rivers Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and OnSPEC Magazine. Susan has co-edited two anthologies on social issue-related themes with Lucas K. Law and they are working on their third, Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders (Fall 2018). Susan is the past Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Lucas K. Law

Lucas K. Law is the managing editor of Laksa Media and the co-editor of Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts and The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, along with Susan Forest. Their next anthologies are Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders (Fall 2018) and Seasons Between Us: Tales of Identities and Memories (2019). Lucas also co-edits Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy (Oct 2017) with Derwin Mak. He has been a jury member for a number of fiction competitions including Nebula, RITA and Golden Heart awards. When he isn’t editing, he divides his time between Calgary and Qualicum Beach as a corporate and non-profit consultant in business planning and corporate development.

Forest of Memory

Katya deals in Authenticities and Captures, trading on nostalgia for a past long gone. Her clients are rich and they demand items and experiences with only the finest verifiable provenance. Other people’s lives have value, after all.

But when her A.I. suddenly stops whispering in her ear she finds herself cut off from the grid and loses communication with the rest of the world.

The man who stepped out of the trees while hunting deer cut her off from the cloud, took her A.I. and made her his unwilling guest.

There are no Authenticities or Captures to prove Katya’s story of what happened in the forest. You’ll just have to believe her.

A novella.


In this brief but captivating epistolary story set in a future Pacific Northwest where technology records all events and has rendered both natural memory and storytelling superfluous Kowal (Word Puppets) evokes a world of interconnectedness. In a letter written on an ancient instrument known as a typewriter Katya Gould recounts being kidnapped and forced to live without access to LiveConnect the ubiquitous communication and memory recording network. She attempts to describe her experience alone and threatened by events she can neither understand nor examine in the way she is accustomed to. The letter is a unique document in the story’s world. In contrast to the perfection of recorded memories Katya’s typing errors have been preserved standing as testament to the very human source of the recollection. The fallibility of the narrator leaves the reader wondering what to believe about her remarkable story. Kowal has created a mystery that is satisfying and consistent and this delightful and thought provoking novella is exactly as long as it needs to be. (Mar.)

Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Heading back from the Rainforest + Chapter 12’s draft

Rob and I are heading back from the Rainforest Writer’s Village. It was a lovely retreat. I wrote 10,656 words while I was here and am now past the halfway mark with The Transfigured Lady.  Woo!

For those of you reading along, I posted Chapter 12‘s draft

Here’s a tiny teaser.

Someone shook Walker’s shoulder. “Mr. Browning?”

He woke with a start, face pressed against the Eames’s kitchen table. Light from a shake-lamp bobbed across the table, paining his eyes. His whole right arm seemed nothing but pins and needles.

Miss Parker crouched in front of him. Worry creased her brow. “Are you all right?”


Rob’s view of the Rainforest Retreat >> The Ear Directs the Eye

Rob came with me to the Rainforest Writer’s Village. I thought he would enjoy the quiet.  He’s just written a post about being here, which I think demonstrates the difference in the way we respond to our environment as well as being a good example of why I adore him.

I find my self today on the shores of Lake Quin­ault.  The two dozen writ­ers con­vened here dis­play an intrigu­ing range of coun­te­nances and no doubt tal­ent – but I have no basis for com­men­tary, but in this serene and pre­his­tor­i­cally quiet set­ting, I was hop­ing to encounter voices. I must be patient, for it takes days to habit­u­ate to one’s sonic envi­ron­ment, to hear anew.

Read the full post at Robert Kowal » The Ear Directs the Eye.

Incidentally, the next post, An Actor’s Terroir, is also really interesting.

Travel day: Off to Rainforest Writers Village

Rob and I are heading up to the Rainforest Writers Village for a couple of days of creative isolation with some like-minded folks.  Patrick Swenson has been hosting these and they’ve sounded marvelous so I’m very much looking forward to this one.

I’ll probably be limited online until we are back on Sunday.

Rainforest Writers Village

I had wanted to attend the Rainforest Writers Village but was afraid to schedule it because of my utterly random travel plans. And now we’ve rescheduled our Hawaii trip to be smack dab on top of the RWV. HOWEVER, I happen to know that they still have some spots open, and just because I can’t attend doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go.

the Rainforest Writers Village
and its Retreat(s)

Initial planning for the first retreat and its host organization began in February 2006, but the need and potential for it lay within staff members years before this. The impetus was the staff’s desire to create at least one time and place in the year where all but writing was put aside. A retreat was the natural concept to arise. The objective was to create an annual writers’ gathering that focused on:

1. solitary writing…
2. in an isolated environment…
3. supported by a collective of contemporaries of like mind and pursuits.

Individuals involved would gather at a location of minimized outside interference or influence, ready to spend an intensive three days on their own work, with others involved in the same who were present for support and interactive development of written creative work as art, craft, and science. Balanced against this would be a schedule of events aimed at supporting this process, with the number of retreat guests and attendees kept to a limit. With all this in mind, a suitable location was sought as the first step.

“The Rain Forest Resort Village” is situated on Lake Quinault in the Pacific Northwest Pennisula. Local populations are small and centers of civilization are approximately 50 miles from the resort; close enough for those who wish to seek them out, and far enough for others not to have to seek escape from them. The resort has no phones in the rooms or cabins, and no cell phone service. It is its own little village, with a restaurant, general store, gift shop, lounge, post office, and laundromat on site. [By Spring 2007,there will be wireless service in certain areas of the resort.]

Participants will get writing time free of work and daily social life. They will get professional advice from, and interaction with, guests who have had success in the writing business.

My Favorite Bit: TJ Klune talks about THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

My Favorite BitTJ Klune is joining us today with his novel The House in the Cerulean Sea. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.

What’s TJ’s favorite bit?

The House in the Cerulean Sea cover image


In the fantastical world of The House in the Cerulean Sea, the lead character, Linus Baker—a fussy, portly man in his forties with an extreme appreciation for following the rules—is sent by his employer, the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), on a top secret assignment to investigate a mysterious orphanage that houses what he’s told are the most dangerous children in the world. Unsure of what he’ll witness when he arrives at said orphanage makes Linus extremely nervous, but it doesn’t stop him from doing what he was sent to do. By god, he’ll follow the rules to the letter, and no one will stop him.

Or so he thinks.

An early section of the novel contains what is perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book. Linus, having been summarily welcomed by the orphanage’s inhabitants one by one, joins this funny little family for dinner, all the major players joined together for the first time. There’s Talia, the fierce garden gnome. Theodore, the small wyvern. Phee, a forest sprite. Sal, the shy and nervous were-pomeranian. Chauncey, who is something (no one is quite sure what beyond that he’s a green blob with tentacles). And last—but certainly not least—the Antichrist himself, a six-year old boy named Lucy.

They are joined by the peculiar Zoe Chapelwhite, whose role at the orphanage is unknown to Linus, and Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage and the children’s greatest protector, rounds out those seated at the table with Linus.

The intended purpose of this scene is to introduce the dynamic of the people at this orphanage, through the eyes of Linus, who begins to realize almost immediately that he’s in over his head. The conversation flies fast and quick, Linus is barely able to keep up as the children question him to the point of interrogation, all while some of them display their impossible powers, much to Linus’s dismay.

But it turned into so much more than that, from a writerly perspective.

Long-time readers of mine know that I have a fascination with gatherings such as this, where dynamics between people are on full display, characters showing their true selves, whether it’s asked for or not. The aim is for the reader—and Linus—to feel like they’re in the middle of a ferocious tornado, swept up and unable to do much but go along for the ride and hope for the best.

Linus has preconceptions about what he was to see during these investigations. He’s good at what he does and has been to more than a few orphanages during his employ as a caseworker with DICOMY. But nothing he’s seen can prepare him for this first dinner, and it starts his journey where everything he thought he knew will turn out to be…not quite a lie, but not exactly as he was led to believe.

Everyone has something to say, and they talk over each other, laugh loudly, whispering excitedly. Though Linus doesn’t quite realize it at that point, the children are also nervous, wary of who Linus is and what he represents. They may be young, but they know what he’s there for, and the power he wields.

But at the same time, they’re still children, and they act as such. They ask questions to a flummoxed Linus, who barely gets a chance to answer before Lucy—in his infinite wisdom—decides he would like to look like Linus, a rotund fellow. And so Lucy does, expanding his body until he too is round, ribs cracking, body inflating. It’s not meant to mock Linus, but Lucy—the scion of the Devil—is only six, and has a six year old’s imagination.

It’s played for comedic effect, but Linus doesn’t see it as that, at least not at first. All he sees are children with tremendous power, enough that it could potentially lead to the end of the world. And while it all scares Linus, it opens his eyes that the world isn’t quite how it should be, and that he played a part as a cog in a bureaucratic machine that feeds on fear of the unknown. That cracked-open door, the one Linus thought (and most likely prayed) would never be opened, begins to do just that. On the other side of this door is Linus’s exploration into the truth, and I know that Linus will one day—and one day soon—walk through that door with his head held high.

But what I love most about this scene, and why I keep coming back to it, is because while the children do have strange and wonderful powers, they’re innocent. They’ve known pain and suffering but have found safety in the walls of their home. They’re allowed to express themselves however they wish, something they’d been missing before Arthur took them in. Linus may be a perceived threat, but this is their home, and they won’t let it be taken from them without a fight. And while we always see them through Linus’s eyes, I love to think that before he arrived, these meals played out the exact same way: loud and boisterous and more than a little chaotic.

Hope, Linus learns, is a weapon, and one that when wielded by deft hands, can bring about the change so desperately needed. All it takes is a little kindness, more than a little luck, and the strength of conviction and family. That’s what this scene entails: hope and love and the power of the people we care about more than anything.


The House in the Cerulean Sea Universal Buy Link





TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

My Favorite Bit: K.S. Villoso talks about THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO

Favorite Bit iconK.S. Villoso is joining us today to talk about her novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.

However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.

Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.

A Wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.

What is Villoso’s favorite bit?

Wolf of Oren-Yaro Cover image


One of my most favourite bits in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is this piece of interaction between Queen Talyien and her estranged husband, Rayyel:

“Our special for today is pork bone stew,” the manager said.

“Pork bone stew sounds excellent,” I said. “Rayyel could use a spine.”

“Is heartless shrew on the menu?” Rai asked without batting an eye.

Their meeting, after years of separation, is actually the first thing I ever wrote for this book. It doesn’t show up until a few chapters into the final, published version, but it perfectly encapsulates the essence of it: a story beginning from the trenches of a failed marriage.

The perspective of the characters telling a story is often everything to me. I want to know, from the very beginning, what matters to them—their dreams and goals and how they’re going to go about getting it. Queen Talyien’s story begins where many other characters’ stories end…right after “happily ever after.” What she wants is for that happily ever after to still exist.

It is a sentiment that is familiar to many of us: the desire to continue seeing the world as we were led to believe, to chase after the promises once given to us. Queen Talyien’s whole world is bigger than her husband, but the process of discovering the lies and facade begins with him. They were betrothed as children, and their marriage was meant to signify a joint rule that would cease all hostilities in their war-torn land. She is a “chosen one”—chosen by her father and nation to be the answer to years of chaos, at least. She learns, as we all do, that awakening to reality is uncomfortable, distressing, and maybe even world-shattering. Sometimes the narratives we tell ourselves bear little resemblance to the truth.

And so her story is one that is almost familiar, until it isn’t anymore. Her handsome Prince Charming is cold and cruel, and their supposed fairy tale, happily ever after lives are complicated simply by the mere fact that they are human. Their petty, tension-filled argument in this scene brings the point home—here they are, two supposed diplomats trying to work out an agreement that will benefit their land once and for all, and their emotions take the forefront. Hiding under the barrage of insults momentarily distracts them from the fact that our lives are messy, relationships can’t be reduced to sheer logic, and things can’t be just because we want them to be, even if we’ve all but convinced ourselves we deserve everything to work out in our favour. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the main cast of the CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN—the epic fantasy trilogy that begins and ends with character.


The Wolf of Oren-Yaro Universal Book Link







K.S. Villoso writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. Much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

My Favorite Bit: Beth Cato talks about ROAR OF SKY

My Favorite BitBeth Cato is joining us to talk about her novel Roar of Sky. Here is the publisher’s description:

In this stunning conclusion to the acclaimed Blood of Earth trilogy—a thrilling alternate history laced with earth magic, fantastic creatures, and steampunk elements—geomancer Ingrid must find a way to use her extraordinary abilities to save her world from the woman hell-bent on destroying it.

Thanks to her geomantic magic, Ingrid has successfully eluded Ambassador Blum, the power-hungry kitsune who seeks to achieve world domination for the Unified Pacific. But using her abilities has taken its toll: Ingrid’s body has been left severely weakened, and she must remain on the run with her friends Cy and Fenris.

Hoping to learn more about her magical roots and the strength her bloodline carries, Ingrid makes her way across the Pacific to Hawaii, home to the ancient volcano goddess Madam Pele. What she discovers in this paradise is not at all what she expects—and perhaps exactly what she needs.

But Ambassador Blum comes from the same world of old magic and mythic power. And if Ingrid cannot defeat her once and for all, she knows Blum will use that power to take the lives of everyone she holds dear before escalating a war that will rip the world to pieces.

What’s Beth’s favorite bit?

Roar of Sky cover image


I’m a total history geek. The alternate history 1906 of my Blood of Earth trilogy has given me ample opportunity to dig into dusty old library discards, skim century-old magazines, and to Google away endless hours.

The first book in the series, Breath of Earth, rewrites the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire with a fantastical twist of geomancy and incredible creatures. The second book, Call of Fire, takes my characters to the Pacific Northwest, where slumbering volcanoes might awaken in a cranky mood.

An advantage I had in researching these two books is that had I lived near or in the locales I was writing about. However, as I started the outline for the trilogy finale, Roar of Sky, I realized I didn’t have that advantage. I needed to begin that book in the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island in particular.

Therefore, in the name of research, I had to make a great sacrifice of time and money and travel to Hawaii. Oh darn.

It’s easy to joke about this being the best tax write-off ever, but there was no denying it was a work trip. I dragged my husband out of bed at 5 o’clock every morning, at the latest, to hike and explore before the sun was even up. I’d read extensively to prepare for our trip–not just modern travel guides, but century-old travelogues by writers like Mark Twain and Isabella Lucy Bird. I didn’t bother to pack a swimsuit; instead, I brought portable emergency kits in case we stumbled on dry lava (a’a is some wickedly sharp stuff) and collapsible hiking sticks.

The Halema’uma’u Trail at Volcanoes National Park topped my wish list. A century ago, nighttime visitors traveled on horseback down a heavily forested series of switchbacks to the crater floor, where the journey continued on foot across the old lava flats to the shores of Halema’uma’u. This is the lava lake long-regarded as the home of Madame Pele, goddess of volcanoes. Back then, visitors played at the very edge of the lava. They singed postcards to mail as souvenirs and tossed coins in the molten flow to see how quickly they would melt.

Safety standards are a bit higher now. We took the trail by foot from Volcano House, a famous hotel right on the rim, and followed steep switchbacks and moss-lined holloways to the dried lava basin below. This may sound corny, but the experience didn’t simply feel informational at that point, but emotional. Spiritual. I’ve lived with my characters since 2013 and spent hundreds of hours with them in their world. Now I was walking in Ingrid’s and Cy’s footsteps. I was giddy and babbling, taking pictures of everything, rattling off historical trivia. My husband, bless him, smiled and nodded.

At the bottom, we stepped from thick rainforest onto swells of dried black lava. Far across the field of the rippled yet smooth pahoehoe flow, we could see the plume of Halema’uma’u. Signs forbade us from going further due to the toxic fumes. Even so, I was thrilled to stand there, to feel the strangely hollow tap of lava underfoot, to take in the reality of a place I’d studied by book for months.

That experience feels even more poignant now with recent events on Kilauea. In May, a series of fissures opened up in the Puna district to the east, draining Halema’uma’u and causing a massive collapse of the surrounding lava fields and cliff. By massive, I mean the lake is now a 1,500-foot pit with no molten lava visible. Repeated large earthquakes damaged the incredible Jagger Museum on the rim. The Halema’uma’u Trail down the cliff was blocked by enormous boulders. Volcanic activity decreased as the summer went on, and Volcanoes National Park has recently reopened to a limited degree.

In Roar of Sky I describe the lava lake as it was a century ago, much larger than during my visit in January 2017. As I wrote, I wondered if readers would believe it all: that tourists ventured across the treacherous terrain at night and roasted hot dogs over bubbling lava. Now, I can’t help but shake my head in awe after nature’s most recent show.

I hope that someday I can return and take in the changes for myself. For now, I know with certainty that the Big Island is one of my favorite places to read about in history, and to write about, and to visit. I only hope I did it some justice in Roar of Sky.


Roar of Sky Universal Buy Link




Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.


My Favorite BitTheodora Goss is joining us today with her novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.

What’s Theodora’s favorite bit?

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman cover image


I hope you’re not offended if I assert that Hungarian pastries are the best in the world.

Oh, I know, the French tarte tatin is world-famous, as is the Italian tiramisu. And who can pass up a piece of bakhlavah? Pavlova, dulce de leche, halva, flan, panettone . . . Every culture has wonderful sweets to share. But my favorites are the traditional Hungarian ones, because they are not too sweet, and often combine contrasting flavors in interesting ways: chocolate and apricots, poppy seed and sour cherries. If you want to disagree with me, go right ahead, but not before you travel to Budapest yourself, sit down at one of the traditional old cafés like Gerbeaud or the Centrál Kávéház, and try some of them for yourself. I’ll gladly share a tarte tatin with you, if you’ll take a bite of my Eszterházy torte.

Why am I talking to you about Hungarian pastries? Because one of my favorite moments in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman happens when Mina Murray, Mary Jekyll’s former governess, welcomes Mary and her friends to Budapest by taking them shopping on Váci utca, and then suggests they stop at Gerbeaud. She buys them a selection of traditional Hungarian pastries, including Eszterházy torte, Dobos torte, krémes, and Rigó Jancsi. My favorite of these is the Eszterházy torte, which is layers of buttercream between layers of a flourless cake made with walnuts, egg whites, and sugar. Lots of layers, like five or six or seven, so you get plenty of buttercream and walnuts. Dobos torte is probably the most famous Hungarian cake for its shining caramel top. Rigó Jancsi, which you seldom find outside Hungary and Austria, is the most romantic: it’s supposedly named after a Romani violinist who fell in love with a Belgian princess. She left her husband for him, they were married, and he created the pastry for her. Krémes is like a Napoleon, only better.

So there they are, Mina and Mary and other members of the Athena Club, sitting in a café in Budapest eating pastries. Why is this one of my favorite bits of the book? When I was writing the first and second Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, I wanted my characters to have adventures, of course—they would overcome obstacles, fight adversaries, and have revelations of various sorts. All the things characters do in books. After all, Vladimir Nabokov said a writer is someone who puts his characters up a tree and throws stones at them. I’ve thrown all sorts of things—murder and mayhem—at mine. But life is never all adventure. I also wanted my novels to contain moments that are more realistic. Moments when the characters are just sitting round drinking tea, or when they get bored, or have to go to the bathroom. (Even characters have to go to the bathroom sometimes.) There they are in Budapest, trying to fight the dastardly Société des Alchimistes, but they have to eat, right? So for about an hour, they stop and sit down and have cake. Not just any cake, but some of my favorite cakes.

There’s another reason this particular bit matters to me. In this novel, it makes sense for my characters to go to Budapest because the villains they’re dealing with are in Budapest—that’s where they were in the original texts I was drawing on. The plot requires a trip to that part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, I was born in Budapest and it’s my favorite city in the world. In this book, I wanted to show you a bit of the city I love, as it would have looked in the late nineteenth century. Sure, I populated it with monsters—that’s what I do. But I also wanted to make sure you knew there were cakes. Really good cakes. The monsters may not be there anymore, but Gerbeaud and the Centrál Kávéház are, and they still have all those pastries, right in the pastry cases, close to the front. You can order them, just as Mina did for Mary and her friends. I guarantee that they will fortify you for whatever obstacles you need to face, whether fighting monsters or just finding your way to the art museum.


European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman Universal Buy Link






Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning author of the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman(2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at